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Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ votes on five roll calls and local senators’ votes on three roll calls from the week of April 3 to 7.

Health care insurance (H 4850)

House 155-2, Senate 37-0 approved and sent to Gov. Mitt Romney a lengthy bill making major changes in the state’s health care insurance system. The measure requires all Massachusetts residents to have health insurance coverage by July 1, 2007, or face a financial penalty. It allows low-income individuals and families to purchase “no deductible” insurance on a sliding scale based on income. Another provision mandates that all businesses that have more than 10 employees and do not provide health insurance to their workers pay $295 per employee into a state fund that would assist in providing insurance for the uninsured. Supporters said that this landmark legislation is an innovative package that would provide some form of health insurance for 95 percent of the 500,000 uninsured in Massachusetts over the next three years and become a model for the nation. The only two opponents offered no arguments. Critics object to a variety of provisions including the controversial requirement that companies with more than 10 employees pay for their workers’ insurance or be forced to pay into a state fund. (A “Yes” vote is for the health care bill. A “No” vote is against it).

Rep. James Eldridge, Yes

Rep. Robert Hargraves, Yes

Sen. Robert Antonioni, Yes

Sen. Steven Panagiotakos, Yes

Sen. Pamela Resor, Yes

Legalize slot machines (S 2227)

House 55-100, rejected a bill allowing up to 2000 slot machines at each of the state’s four racetracks in Revere, East Boston, Raynham and Plainville. The Senate had approved the bill on a 26-9 vote in October. The proposal provides that the state receive 60 percent of the profits and requires it to use those funds to compensate cities and towns for any loss in Lottery local aid as a result of people playing the slots instead of buying Lottery tickets. The remainder of the state’s share would then be distributed in equal one-third shares to local aid, the Rainy Day Fund and the General Fund. The racetrack owners would receive 25.5 percent while the remaining 14.5 percent would go to others including the host community, contiguous communities, law enforcement and an effort to help compulsive gamblers. Racetracks would pay a $25 million fee to renew their license every five years. Supporters said that the state’s annual share of slot machine revenue was estimated at $350 million to $500 million in much-needed dollars that would fund local aid, education and human services. They noted that the racetracks are in danger of going out of business unless slot machines are legalized and said that allowing slots would preserve existing jobs at the tracks and create many new ones. They argued that it is time to allow adult citizens to gamble in Massachusetts instead of supporting slot machines and casinos in Connecticut and Rhode Island. Some said that Speaker Salvatore DiMasi and the House leadership are pressuring legislators to vote against allowing slot machines. Opponents said that allowing slots would open the door to legalizing full-scale casinos in Massachusetts and noted that slots are nothing more than a tax on low-income people and seniors who would frequent the venues. They argued that the projected revenue and job creation estimates are excessive and do not take into account increased financial and social costs from public safety problems, increased traffic and compulsive gambling. Some questioned why the racetracks rather than other businesses should have the exclusive rights to the machines. (A “Yes” vote is for the bill allowing up to 2000 slot machines at each of the state’s four racetracks. A “No” vote is against the bill. The listing of votes includes last week’s House vote and the October vote in the Senate).

Rep. James Eldridge, No

Rep. Robert Hargraves, Yes

Sen. Robert Antonioni, Yes

Sen. Steven Panagiotakos, Yes

Sen. Pamela Resor, No

MCAS AND STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES (H 4710)

House 156-0, approved and sent to the Senate a bill allowing some high school seniors with disabilities to participate in graduation ceremonies and activities even if they have not passed the MCAS test and would not receive a diploma. A student would have to meet certain conditions including satisfying his or her school’s non-academic standards for graduation and maintaining a 95 percent attendance record, excluding excused absences, in his or her junior year. Supporters said that the bill does not award a diploma to the student but simply allows him or her to attend the graduation ceremony, the prom and other activities. They argued that it is unfair that these students who have spent 12 years with their peers are left out of all these important events. (A “Yes” vote is for the bill).

Rep. James Eldridge, Yes

Rep. Robert Hargraves, Yes

CONTINUE HOUSE SESSION BEYOND 9 P.M.

House 130-24, suspended rules to allow the House to meet beyond 9 p.m. and continue until midnight if necessary. Supporters of the rule suspension said that it is important to remain in session to act on the bill allowing the state’s racetracks to continue simulcasting. Opponents of rule suspension said that it is irresponsible for the House to act on bills late at night when taxpayers are asleep. They noted that the House can act on the bill the next day at a reasonable hour. The session continued and eventually adjourned at 9:32 p.m. (A “Yes” vote is for allowing the session to continue beyond 9 p.m. A “No” vote is against continuing beyond 9 p.m.).

Rep. James Eldridge, Yes

Rep. Robert Hargraves, No

EXTEND SIMULCASTING AT RACETRACKS (S 2469)

House 141-13, approved the Senate version of a bill extending for one year the state’s recently-expired simulcasting law that allows gamblers at the state’s four racetracks to bet on dog and horse races broadcast from other states. The Senate approved the bill on a voice vote and Gov. Romney signed it into law. The old law expired on March 31 and the state’s racetracks had been closed since that time. The House had originally approved a 30-day extension but gave in and agreed to the Senate’s longer one. Supporters of the one-year extension said that without an extension, the four tracks would be forced to close and thousands of jobs and tax revenue would be lost. They argued that a one-year extension would give the tracks some security and noted that a 30-day extension is insufficient. Opponents of the one-year extension said that there are many problems and issues to be worked out between competing tracks. They argued that the shorter 30-day extension would force the tracks owners to meet and work out these differences and come up with a long term solution to ensure that the tracks remain open and that workers keep their jobs. (A “Yes” vote is for the one-year extension. A “No” vote is against the one-year extension).

Rep. James Eldridge, Yes

Rep. Robert Hargraves, Yes

VANDALIZING WATER SUPPLIES (S 2482)

Senate 36-0, approved and sent to the House a bill increasing the fines and prison sentences for anyone convicted of tampering with a public water supply. The measure also establishes a new law making it a crime to trespass on the facilities or land of any public water supply. Supporters said that quick action on the proposal has been prompted by the recent situation in Blackstone where three teenagers stand accused of breaking into one of the town’s water towers. They argued that increased penalties are necessary to discourage this serious crime and punish offenders. They noted that the possibility of terrorists contaminating water supplies heightens the concerns about this sinister crime. (A “Yes” vote is for the bill).

Sen. Robert Antonioni, Yes

Sen. Steven Panagiotakos, Yes

Sen. Pamela Resor, Yes

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

SCHOOL DRESS CODE (H 1007) — The Education Committee has recommended that a bill giving the option to local school committees to establish dress codes for their public schools be shipped off to a study committee. Most bills that are shipped off to a study committee are never actually studied and are essentially defeated. Current law prohibits schools from abridging the rights of students’ dress and appearance unless school officials determine that they violate reasonable standards of health, safety and cleanliness.

TRASH REMOVAL (S 1173) — The Senate approved and sent to the House a bill allowing cities and towns to restrict the hours of the day when garbage may be collected by private companies in areas zoned for business, commercial or industrial use.

SPEED LIMITS — The Senate approved a bill doubling the fines for violating speed limits in school zones (S 1859) and a measure prohibiting school buses carrying students from traveling more than 55 miles per hour even if higher speed limits are posted (S 1918).

CAR HEADLIGHTS (H 2084) — The House approved legislation requiring drivers to turn on their headlights when visibility is less than 500 feet or when the use of windshield wipers is necessary. These requirements would be added to the current law which mandates the use of headlights during the period from a half-hour after sunset to a half-hour before sunrise.

ALLOW NON-CITIZENS TO VOTE (H 80) — The Election Laws Committee has recommended defeat of a local option bill permitting cities and towns to allow non-citizens over age 18 to vote in local municipal elections. These non-citizens would be eligible only if they certify in writing that they live in the city or town and “intend in good faith to become a U.S. citizen and intend to begin that process, if eligible.” Communities could adopt this law if it is approved by the local governing body and by the voters on a local ballot question. The House last week did not act on the committee’s recommendation and instead kept the bill alive by sending it back to the committee.

OTHER ELECTION LAW PROPOSALS — The House rejected several bills including creation of a task force to investigate the feasibility of conducting state elections via the Internet (H 49); creating a commission to consider legislation and non-legislative actions to encourage candidate debates and more informed voting (H 47); requiring that persons who circulate initiative petitions to place a proposed law on the ballot meet the state requirements for voter registration (H 108); prohibiting public schools from being used as polling places in presidential elections (H 123); allowing teenagers to register to vote when they turn 16.5 even though they are not eligible to vote until age 18 (H 68); and requiring all radio and television stations in the state to air a minimum of two hours per week of candidates debates and interviews for six weeks preceding a primary or general state election (H 109). The mandate would cover candidates for statewide office and the Legislature, and would only apply to those who meet certain fundraising goals.

GARTER SNAKE (H 3453) — The House gave a thumbs up to Senate-approved legislation designating the garter snake as the state’s official reptile.

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com.

Copyright © 2006 Beacon Hill Roll Call. All Rights Reserved.

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